[Viewpoint] A resonant echo of a forgotten war

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[Viewpoint] A resonant echo of a forgotten war

We commemorate the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War in varying ways: some with apathy and others with a heavy heart.

As a matter of sad fact, the Korean War has long been a forgotten one. Although the media has been playing up the 60th anniversary, most of us remain ignorant and uninterested in the details of the war. Few among our youth would be able to accurately answer the question of who fought whom in the three-year conflict.

The decade-long engagement or Sunshine Policy of the past two administrations has played a role in erasing the memory of war from our people, but the biggest problem is that some members of our community lack understanding of the true meaning of the war.

We still bear scars from the war and yet are confused about what we fought for. Was it a merely tragic civil war between people of the same heritage aiming arms at one another from the northern and southern ends of the peninsula?

If we cannot give meaning to the war, then the human beings victimized and sacrificed have been more or less dumped into the waters of Lethe.

The truth is North Koreans were one step ahead of us. They poured into the south one Sunday at dawn, firing lethally at their own race and declaring the invasion to be a “campaign to liberate the fatherland.”

We remain dumbfounded by the audacity they continue to show in glorifying the bloodshed - backed with the help of China and the Soviet Union - as a liberation campaign. But North Koreans, brainwashed by communist propaganda, stand undivided and unswervingly behind their feelings about the war and never doubt its justification.

South Korea, being a diverse and free society, allows individuals different interpretations and evaluations of the war. Some call it a failed attempt at unification, while others simply dub it the Korean War.

But labels can oversimplify and distort the meaning and values of the war. To us, the war was a fight to defend the freedom of individuals and our land. Because of our strong resolve to safeguard freedom, we stood valiantly against the communists as they rumbled through our streets in Soviet tanks.

We were outnumbered and unarmed. But our soldiers - men and boys - fought valiantly in the fields, mountains and valleys, in the air and on the sea. Their valor was not in vain.

To this day, our freedom and rights remain intact.

If the generation of our fathers had feared death and compromised for a cowardly peace, too fearful to stand up to the military attack, where would we be today? We would be no different from our poor neighbors to the north, living lives tantamount to modern-day slavery.

We would also have to recite paeans to the father-and-son Kims day and night, spying on each other to keep the hermit kingdom intact. We would even have to endeavor to keep pictures of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il dry when rain poured through our rotten roofs and drenched our families.

We fought the war because we chose to live as free citizens rather than cowardly slaves, and we should recognize it for what it was: a sacred mission to defend our freedom.

The war ended in an armistice and therefore technically is still going on. The March 26 attack on our warship, the Cheonan, is a crude reminder of this grim reality: North Koreans remain at war with us, will sneak across our borders to attack us and then flatly deny everything afterward.

The secluded country is constant in its reckless and maverick behavior. But it is sad to see so many sympathizers here in the south dancing to North Korea’s tune on the Cheonan incident. The government offered hard, forensic evidence proving a North Korean attack, yet many still doubt the investigation’s authenticity.

Where does this knee-jerk suspicion against our own side come from? Any explanation to these skeptics comes across as an excuse or a lie. A civilian rights group even sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council questioning the government-led investigation, discrediting our government’s effort to gain international condemnation against North Korea for its attack.

We can only conclude that the group, the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, is cursed with a paranoid personality filled with suspicion and distrust. Our renegade civilian action groups enjoy freedoms of speech and protest, yet are heedless of the responsibilities that accompany such freedoms.

They are able to act and speak freely because their fathers sacrificed their lives for a greater cause. If they continue to blindly contradict the realities of the Cheonan sinking, they are dishonoring themselves and the legacy of their forefathers.

The truth and meaning of the Korean War should echo loudly this day in order to credit these heroes for the freedoms and rights we enjoy today.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor of civil ethics education at Seoul National University.

By Park Hyo-chong
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